Buckle up, Minnesota Vikings fans! While your favorite team won’t be playing during “Super Wildcard Weekend,” you’re facing the distinct possibility of more heart-wrenching drama over the next four weeks. You see, the two teams that Vikings fans love to hate the most – the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints – are the two Vegas favorites from the NFC to make it to Super Bowl LV in Tampa.
Sorry. I hope you weren’t eating or anything.
The thought of either team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy again is enough to push the most ardent fans of the Purple over the edge in a fit of despair, anger, and, yes, jealousy.
Hold on, though. Before resigning yourself to a long offseason spent barely tolerating haughty Saints or Packers fans reveling in another championship, know this: There appears to be a better chance that one of them actually loses the Super Bowl. And if they do, some of the credit could very well be given to a former Vikings coach.
As fun Minnesota plot twists go, such a scenario might even rank ahead of Prince revealing to Apollonia, “That ain’t Lake Minnetonka.”
Our crack analytics team of “number counters, math and stuff” here at Zone Coverage has unofficially determined that nine of the 14 playoff teams have at least one coach with a Vikings connection. The only abstainers: the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams and the aforementioned Saints.
There are a few ways to view such a data point.
The first is for those in Vikings nation who believe their beloved team ought to consider making a change at head coach — in addition to the forthcoming change at special-teams coordinator, the apparent annual change in offensive coordinator, and some kind of change in the defensive coaching staff — a few of this year’s playoff coaches with Vikings ties could be viewed as “ones that got away.”
Tony Dungy, Brian Billick and Mike Tomlin all left the Vikings for head coaching gigs and won a Super Bowl elsewhere. Hindsight being what it is, they were all viewed in certain circles as coaches the Vikings would have been better off retaining and elevating to head coach. Well, Tomlin is back in the postseason again, as are some others who might fit the bill of coaches the Vikes would have been better off with now.
The other, somewhat mercenary, way to view all these playoff coaches with purple roots is to consider that one of them, in fact, could help prevent another nauseating Packers or Saints Super Bowl win.
Let’s review the list to determine which coaches fit one of the two buckets outlined above.
This one’s easy. Stefanski is the latest candidate in the cottage industry of “those coaches that got away” from the Vikings, Cleveland’s first-year head coach is in the headlines this week for the wrong reasons, unfortunately, having been sidelined by COVID-19. It looks like another former Vikings coach, Mike Priefer, will add “wildcard round temporary head coach” to his special-teams coordinator duties in this weekend’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Nonetheless, Stefanski made a very favorable impression in returning the Cleveland Browns to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. He’s got a strong NFL coach-of-the-year case. Whether his COVID-impaired team is able to survive round one remains to be seen. Perhaps the only ones cheering harder than the Dawg Pound are toilet-humor enthusiasts hoping he takes the Browns to the Super Bowl. If he does, more Vikings fans will assuredly be doing the “I told you so” bit when it comes to Stefanski. Alas, the Brownies might be a year or two away in a loaded AFC field.
If Stefanski is the latest and greatest of the former Vikings coaches who went elsewhere and hit the big time, then Tomlin, his opponent this weekend, is the current belt-holder. It was clear to anyone paying attention that he was head coaching material when he was the Vikings’ defensive coordinator in 2006 in the first season of the Brad Childress era. The Vikings weren’t about to bail on Childress after one season, though, so Tomlin left after one season to take the Steelers’ job. Two years into his head coaching career, he won a Super Bowl. Because of course he did.
He hasn’t won another one since, but he’s been to a second one, and his 145 wins and .650 career winning percentage have him on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Tomlin is still just 48 years old. Oh, what could have been had he only remained with the Vikings a few more seasons and taken the reins from Childress!
By the way, former Vikings defensive line coach Karl Dunbar is doing the same thing for the Steelers now – yet another familiar face who will be roaming the sidelines this weekend.
Most Vikings fans think of Carroll as that somewhat obnoxious head coach for the Seattle Seahawks squad that seems to always beat the Vikings. By the way, there must be an error in the initial release of Vikings 2021 opponents because it lists the Vikings as hosting the Seahawks. Clearly, they’ve forgotten that the Vikes are required to always play (and lose) in Seattle. We can only assume this oversight will be straightened out before all the dates and times are finalized.
Where were we?
Oh yeah, Carroll and his “other” Vikings connection. He’s not just a Bubble Yum-chewin’, silver-haired football coach with the Vikings’ number. Those of us of a certain vintage actually remember when he was the Vikes’ defensive backs coach from 1985-89 – the final season of the second Bud Grant era and the fist three seasons of the Jerry Burns administration. Things would have been quite different had Minnesota handed the head coaching gig to Carroll at some point in the late 80s. Was he the one who got away before Dungy and Billick were the ones that got away?
Few would argue that Frazier should have been granted more time to sort things out in his run as Vikings head coach. It just wasn’t working. A change was needed. Having said that, Frazier is a highly respected defensive mind and the Buffalo Bills were smart to hire him as defensive coordinator.
Buffalo is this year’s trendy pick to win it all, and Frazier definitely fits the (ahem) bill as a coach who could stand in the way of the Saints or Packers winning the Super Bowl. If you’re going to beat either team, you’re going to need to dial-up an approach to contain their offense. Frazier has faced off with Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees a time or two. Vikings fans should be pulling for their former head coach just as much as they are for Stefon Diggs if the Bills make it to Tampa.
As an added bonus, Vikings special-teams legend Heath Farwell is the Bills’ special-teams coordinator.
Bieniemy actually belongs in both of the buckets outlined above. As offensive coordinator for the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, he’s the heavy favorite to be coaching Patrick Mahomes in a second consecutive Super Bowl. Thus, he’d have a big hand in thwarting any potential Packers or Saints championship aspirations. By the way, serving as running backs coach for the Vikings during the heyday of Adrian Peterson and going on to run the Chiefs’ offense with Mahomes is some kind of good fortune.
He also certainly fits the description of a former Vikings coach who went elsewhere and became enormously successful. It helps that he has Mahomes at his disposal, but even so, every team with a head coaching vacancy has Bieniemy on its shortlist of top candidates. He’ll be an NFL head coach somewhere in 2021 – a lot of Vikings fans wish it were with their squad.
By the way, did you know former Vikings wide receiver Greg Lewis – he of the back-of-the-end-zone-touchdown-grab-to-beat-the-49ers-in-2009 fame — is the Chiefs wide receiver coach?
OTHER VIKINGS COACHING CONNECTIONS IN THE POSTSEASON
Two division rivals that Vikings fans most definitely want to see bow out of the playoffs early – the Packers and Bears – have former Vikings coaches on their staff. Jerry Gray coaches the Packers’ defensive backs and John DeFilippo has the challenge of coaching the Bears’ quarterbacks.
The Washington Football Team will likely be one-and-done in the postseason, but it’s worth noting they have former Vikings assistant, Scott Turner, as their offensive coordinator and former Vikings linebacker Jack Del Rio as their defensive coordinator.
Lastly, long-time NFL coach Tom Moore, who was born in Owatonna, went to school in Rochester, and served two tours of duty as a Vikings coach (offensive coordinator in 1975-76 and assistant head coach in 1990-93) is an offensive consultant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The man is still coaching football at 82 years old. Respect.
There you have it, Vikings fans. Hopefully, the list of coaches above provides some additional storylines to invest in between now and the time a new champ is crowned in Tampa. Maybe you can latch onto one of them as a new reason to care about who wins or loses. And here you thought the NFL playoffs were going to be all about rooting against the Packers and Saints… and Bears and Seahawks and Tom Brady, etc.